Preserving the Abraham Accords in the Age of Biden

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The Biden Administration’s secretary of state, Anthony Blinken, has claimed that the previous Trump Administration’s Abraham Accords were a “good thing.” The Abraham Accords were the apotheosis of years of work by former President Trump’s controversial son-in-law, Jared Kushner, Trump’s secretary of state, Mike Pompeo, and the Trump Administration’s Special Envoy to the Middle East Jason Greenblatt (who left the administration in 2019, shortly before the deal was completed). 

The accords, signed last year, brought together the Sunni Arab states with Israel in an attempt to stabilize the chaotic Middle East while creating a coalition meant to contain Iran’s rise. It was an unpopular deal among the Western intelligentsia, partly because it was a Trump initiative (and “Orange Man Bad”).

What became known as the Abraham Accords was unpopular also because of the fact that it did little to ameliorate the long-standing feud between the Jewish state of Israel and the Arabs in neighboring Palestine. Many in Washington at the time had dubbed the Kushner-Pompeo-Greenblatt peace deal as the “Netanyahu Plan.” 

What these critics fail to understand is that the art of successful deal-making is based entirely upon that which is possible.The Middle East, an ancient expanse of competing ethno-religious sects, is a complex organism. It has many moving parts, and its people have multiple objectives and interests.

The idea that any single deal brought about by an outside power, like the United States, will be able to resolve all of the outstanding problems in a satisfactory way to everyone involved is absurd. After all, one devours a whale a single bite at a time; not all at once. 

Rather than being the final movement in the Middle East stabilization plan, the Abraham Accords were but the start of it. Had President Trump managed to convince enough voters to reelect him, despite all of his iniquities, it is likely that the Abraham Accords would have been shown to be merely the first move in a larger set of movements by his administration.

We know, for example, that Jared Kushner was the architect of a potential development deal with the Palestinians. 

According to Kushner in 2019, he proposed a $50 billion Mideast economic plan that “would create a global investment fund to lift the Palestinian and neighboring Arab state economies, and fund a $5 billion transportation corridor to connect the West Bank and Gaza.”

When I met with Jared Kushner and his aide, Avi Berkowitz, in May of 2019, I told them that there was no way that the Palestinians would go for the plan. In fact, the Palestinians refused to deal with the Trump Administration. The Palestinian leadership then renounced Trump as an agent of Israel, their great rival. 

No deal.

At the time of my meeting with Kushner and his team, however, he simply stated that the economic proposal for Palestine was but the opening bid. He was as committed to playing fairly with the Palestinians as he was with the other Arab states in the region. Kushner believed that the way into the Palestinian camp was through fair-minded, tangible economic proposals.

He thought an economic deal that urged international investing into the ailing Palestinian territories and encouraged greater tourism there would ameliorate many of the hardships felt by the Palestinians—and would, over time, mitigate the lure of extremism there. 

When I further pressed him on the wisdom of that call (I believed it was fanciful to assume the ideological Palestinian leadership would give up on their dreams of smashing Israel), he then indicated that, at the very least, it showed the world how unreasonable the Palestinian leadership was being. Kushner believed that, all else failing, the region would resolve to move beyond the Israel-Palestinian conflict and toward something greater: a pro-American, regional alliance that contained Iran.

Whereas many American foreign policy experts believe that linking overall Mideast peace to resolution of the Israel-Palestinian conflict is the key to victory in the region for the Americans, the Trump team was the first to do just the opposite. Moving beyond the tired calculation of peace between Israel and Palestine first, regional security second, allowed for Washington to finally gain traction in the Middle East (beyond having to invade every Muslim country that had a problem with us). 

The first nation to sign the agreement was the United Arab Emirates (UAE). Then Bahrain quickly followed. This was interesting because Bahrain is home to a large Shiite Muslim population and was the site of an Iranian attempt to overthrow the ruling Sunni regime there in 2011. Bahrain continues to be in Iran’s crosshairs. Despite this fact, however, Bahrain has been one of the leading voices in the Arab Sunni world of the Palestinian cause. Yet, Bahrain ultimately followed the UAE’s lead in 2019 and voted to normalize ties with Israel, “angering Palestinians who had conditioned any such regional rapprochement on statehood, with East Jerusalem capital of their independent state.”

As of 2021, the UAE, Bahrain, and Sudan have all signed the Abraham Accords with Israel. While the Big Kahuna, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, has yet to sign the agreement, it is widely acknowledged outside of the “mainstream” Western media that Riyadh was the driving force behind getting the other Sunni Arab states to sign the agreement. 

Oman appears poised to sign as well, though that is now contingent on what the Biden Administration plans to do. It’s a shame that the Abraham Accords did not happen a year earlier than when they did. It is my belief that had the Trump Administration still been in power, Saudi Arabia would have brought whatever dead-enders remained in the Sunni Arab world to the negotiating table and gotten them into a comprehensive deal with Israel and the United States—ending with Riyadh’s signing of the pact. 

Today, it is an entirely different matter. The famed Arab historian, Ibn Khaldun, wrote in his magnum opus, Al-Muqaddima, that, “history is a matter of one tribe, nation, or civilization dominating the others by force until it, too, is overthrown by force.” Toward that end, the brilliant Lee Smith argued in his 2011 masterpiece, The Strong Horse: Power, Politics, and the Clash of Civilizations, that most Islamists view their ongoing war against the United States as a, “massive projection of [Ibn Khaldun’s pattern of history], with a tribe bound as one to defend against and defeat the outsider.” 

The Iranian expert, Vali Nasr, lamented that the United States has been acting as a Middle East power for 80 years. Nasr, like other graybeards in the foreign policy community, believe that the Americans must exist above-the-fray of the chaotic Middle East. While this is desirable, it is also entirely impractical. 

Fact is, since the United States began propping up Saudi Arabia as an oil power in 1945, when the Truman Administration recognized Israel as a sovereign, Jewish state in the Muslim Middle East, and once the Islamists overthrew the Shāh of Iran in 1979, the Americans had no choice but to act as another player in the region—especially as long as the world relied on Mideast oil and natural gas flows.

Since the United States has, for three generations, acted as a major player in the Middle East, the expectation of most foreign policy experts in the West for America to simply remain an impartial observer is unrealistic. We’ve waded into the region for far too long. We’ve been picking winners-and-losers for a while.

Right now, the people America has consistently built up and chosen as regional partners—the Sunni Arabs and Israelis—believe there is a greater threat posed to them by the rise of a potentially nuclear-armed, revanchist Shiite-majority Iran than anything else. For the United States to have a modicum of stability in the region, then, Washington must follow through with the decisions of the last 80 years of U.S. foreign policy toward the region.

That is why Secretary of State Anthony Blinken’s recent comments about the Abraham Accords is a hopeful development. While the Biden Administration’s quixotic quest to return to the 2015 Obama Administration Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA)—the Iran nuclear deal—is dangerous and counterproductive, the fact that at least some major players in the Biden foreign policy team appear to recognize the gift that Trump left them in the form of the Abraham Accords is something to be praised.

Whatever happens with the Iran nuclear deal, the fact is that it is essential for the United States to complete the circuit begun by FDR and conclude a regional power-sharing deal that empowers the Sunni Arabs and Israelis against a rising Iran. 

Although, there are obstacles both at home and abroad to these developments, the Abraham Accords—as imperfect as they are—remain the only hope for the United States to remain the dominant force in the Middle East without getting involved in more wasteful brush wars there. Leave that to the Sunni Arabs and Israelis to sort out while we remain just over-the-horizon, deferring to their judgement.

Pray that President Biden can set aside petty partisan politics and pluck the low-hanging fruit that is the Abraham Accords. 

Brandon J. Weichert is the author of “Winning Space: How America Remains a Superpower” (Republic Book Publishers) and is a geopolitical analyst who manages The Weichert Report: World News Done Right. He can be followed via Twitter @WeTheBrandon and via Clubhouse @wethebrandon. Be sure to check out his personal website, http://www.brandonweichert.com, for more contact information. 

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